Rachel Stewart: Path of destruction and dim-wittedness

Why do I despise MPI? Let me count the ways. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Why do I despise MPI? Let me count the ways. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Think of your least favourite ministry then multiply it by a thousand. That's roughly how much I despise the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Indeed, let me count the ways. There is so much material to choose from it's hard to know where to begin. MPI stands for everything wrong with this country, and then some.

And in Nathan Guy, it has a minister who somehow manages to mirror his own variety of mental acuity perfectly upon it.

The ministry, in my opinion, has forged a crooked path of destruction, deceit and dim-wittedness. The fish dumping scandal, brilliantly uncovered by TV3's Michael Morrah, is but the culmination of years of chicanery by some staff, all aided and abetted by a Government which views New Zealand as a corporation.

Two senior heads have quietly resigned, with their boss, MPI director general Martyn Dunne, saying it was just a "coincidence" that they quit when they did.

Yes, and I'm a ballerina.

I'm confident their mustachioed colleague Dave Turner, Director of Fisheries - who has often (in my view badly) fronted the media - won't be too far behind them. In my opinion he, too, is knee deep in contradictions, controversy, and cock-ups. His email trail, revealed in Operation Achilles, about not wanting to prosecute illegal dumping by fishermen, is jaw-droppingly candid. So, of course, Nathan Guy and Martyn Dunne quickly distanced themselves from him, then seem to have thrown him in front of a bus. He's yet to roll out from underneath so I'm picking he won't. But, like the other two, he'll land another plum role in public service with no lasting damage to his pay packet.

Another job of MPI's is to make a serious attempt at saving the nearly extinct Maui's dolphin. How's that going? Well, let's just say that commercial fishing and money have trumped any genuine attempt by MPI to take that role seriously. It delayed, denied, finally put observers on boats - like that has shown its effectiveness - and still it is alleged that dolphins get caught in nets and it goes unreported.

An investigation by German conservation group NABU International revealed MPI officials and fishermen concealed the death of a Maui's dolphin.

NABU obtained a statement that describes how a Maui's dolphin was caught in a gillnet outside the area in which the dolphins are supposedly protected from this fishing method during the 2012-13 fishing season.

"The document we secured describes that MPI officials failed to record the dolphin's death and sought to suppress the incident by informing the eyewitness on board the fishing vessel that he 'had seen nothing'. NABU International became aware of a potential Maui's dolphin bycatch incidence three years ago," explains NABU chief executive Thomas Tennhardt.

"When we sought clarification from New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries we were assured that we were mistaken."

The latest fiasco is around the treatment of bobby calves. It's a perennial issue and, going by its track record of doing nothing, the public have finally woken up to the fact that MPI simply see no economic imperative to care.

Primary Industry Minister Nathan Guy. Photo / Warren Buckland
Primary Industry Minister Nathan Guy. Photo / Warren Buckland

On cue, Nathan Guy opines that it's just a few laggards letting the industry down, it's not widespread and go home, there's nothing to see here, you stupid townies. An MPI spokesman waffled on about its role, saying it could not be there to be the conscience of the sector. One random farmer told Radio NZ: "I know farmers and they treat those calves like their babies." Which is spookily apt, given some Kiwis' strong predilection for killing their own children.

Even Whanganui's National MP, Chester Borrows, entered the fray. He appeared more concerned about the rural economy taking a hit than the actual cruelty calves are subjected to.

"Unlawful intrusions on to private property by organisations seeking out examples of bad farming practices to expose internationally were putting the New Zealand economy at risk," he said. Awesome self-professed Christian values on display there, Chester.

All I know is MPI is tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. Maybe it should just get on and sort it rather than making excuses for failing to do its job. But then again, its also tasked with managing commercial fishing sustainably too, so clearly we're all asking too much.

On and on the mendacity goes. The fishing and dairy industries are huge, powerful, and bring in the big bucks. To this Government, that's manna from heaven. You don't mess with it and nor do you question it.

MPI has repeatedly failed to follow its own policies, the law, and any attempt at decency or ethics. Protecting its own reputation? Oh, yes, it does care about that. Just add it to its long list of failures.

- NZ Herald

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